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"Building A Sustainable Future for New Zealand"

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister



"Building A Sustainable Future
for New Zealand"

Christchurch Convention Centre


26 June 2000

I welcome the holding of this conference and the opportunity to hear in New Zealand leading American thinkers and advisors to President Clinton on sustainable development.

The written work on the natural capitalism concept which is central to this conference provides many insights into how companies have increased the productivity of natural resources and eliminated the concept of waste.

Within our country there are corporates, government agencies, and local government councils committed to a sustainable future – and you will be hearing from some of them today: from companies like The Warehouse, committed to a goal of zero waste to landfill; from Christchurch City which has committed to the same goal by 2020; and from Landcare Research, which has incorporated the concepts of natural capitalism into not only its own operations, but into its science as well.

I believe there is a lot of good will within our private and public sectors to embrace sustainable development.

I particularly applaud the leadership given by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, formed last year, which has committed itself to the triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

The Council is working for:

 a healthy and diverse economy which adapts to change, provides long term security and recognises social and ecological limits;

 a healthy and diverse ecological system which continually performs life-sustaining functions and provides other resources; and

 a social foundation which provides health, fosters participation, respects cultural diversity, is equitable, and considers the needs of future generations.

I have set out the Council’s goals in detail because they are goals which are entirely consistent with the goals our government has for the future of our country.

I cannot overstate how excited I was to find in the corporate sector a group willing to stand up for a vision for our future which combines the economic, the environmental, and the social.

My challenge today is to groups across these three often compartmentalised sectors to buy into that integrated vision.

Unfortunately business is all too often perceived to look at the future of the country only through a narrow prism of what constitutes profit and loss, and of what is good or bad for business. That often leads to demands for weaker environmental law and constraints, as seen in the assault on the Resource Management Act; weaker labour law, as seen in the attack on the Employment Relations Bill; and calls for lower social spending, which would undermine social cohesion.

On the other hand community, social, and labour organisations don’t always give enough regard to the state’s or business’ ability to pay on a sustainable basis.

Environmental groups too need to factor economic and social considerations into their vision for a green future which maintains first world living standards.

Presiding over all these sectors is the government itself which does have the capacity and a responsibility to spell out a vision and a set of principles for a sustainable future.

Many times in the run up to the last election, I spoke about my vision for New Zealand which saw:
 the economy growing sustainably;

 the economy being diversified beyond its primary commodity base into a producer of goods of ever greater sophistication, commanding higher prices in world markets; and

 economic transformation being driven by higher levels of education and skill; by greater investment in science, research and development; and by a national commitment to productivity and innovation.

I said that as a result of sustainable growth and the development of a higher value economy, I hoped to see:

 more people gainfully employed;

 higher standards of living across the board;

 the development of better quality public services;

 more resources for our beleaguered biodiversity; and

 the development of a strong sense of national identity backed by confidence in ourselves as a nation of achievers and talented people in every field of endeavour.

That vision is within our grasp if as a nation we determine to buy into it. But a lot of things have to change. And they won’t change quickly. Our unsustainable way of life has developed over a long period of time, we need to commit now to a long term programme of change to deliver to us the healthy, green, responsible, and prosperous society we all long to live in.

Today I want to outline to you how the new government has begun this work. But I want to emphasise that we can’t do it all on our own. We need and we are actively looking for partnerships; partnerships with:
 business
 local government
 community based organisations
 Maori
 environmental groups.

In this regard, we have had very useful contact with the Business Council for Sustainable Development and with countless individual companies. I am frankly disappointed with the politicised attacks on this mainstream social democratic government by some business elements, but that will not stop us engaging with the vast majority of New Zealand business, large and small, which does not want to spend its precious time and energy fighting the government for no good reason.

We have set up a joint central government–local government forum to take forward our shared vision for local economic development, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability - that triple bottom line again.

We have appointed a facilitator to work on a protocol for mutual respect and engagement between non-governmental agencies and central government. We have a deep commitment to civil society and to participation by it in addressing the challenges the country faces.

We have embarked on an ambitious programme to close the gaps between Maori and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders. With Maori we are seeking to develop strong relationships to build Maori capacity to determine its own destiny and provide its own solutions.

On the environmental front, we have greatly valued the input of organisations like Forest and Bird which have consistently advocated a vision for protecting and restoring our biodiversity. And we wish to engage with industry, scientists, engineers, and environmentalists in meeting our commitments on climate change.

In this year’s Budget, and in a series of announcements leading up to it, we announced the steps we were taking to build a more sustainable economy and society and to sustain our environment. Let me focus briefly on each of these areas.

1. The Economy

Through investing significantly more in education, science and research, we are working to speed our transition away from a low value, commodity based economy to higher value enterprise driven by knowledge, skill, and technology.

That’s why we are lowering the costs of tertiary education.

That’s why we have increased funding for science, research and technology by ten per cent – or $43 million dollars. Half of that extra funding will go out to the private sector in grants to back smart ideas for new products and services.

There is also greatly increased funding for basic research which has the potential long term to create new areas of potential for business.

And surely one of the growth areas of business in New Zealand today and for New Zealand to export is in the area of applying smart solutions to business, like those outlined in Natural Capitalism, and like those being trialed in our progressive companies, cities, and research institutes today.

We have established a Ministry of Economic Development. It is required to promote sustainable development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The Ministry and an associated agency, Industry New Zealand, have $330 million over four years for their programmes.

They will be able to back new innovative companies with early stage financing.

They will support the development and promotion of sustainable economic strategies in the regions.

They will have industry specialists and grants to work with and support New Zealand companies with growth potential as yet untapped.

They will work with Trade New Zealand to attract smart investment to New Zealand which can contribute to our development of an enhanced skills and technology base for the economy.

2. Addressing the Environmental Challenges

These challenges are huge – and the biggest of them is meeting our international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

We want to have New Zealand ratify the Protocol by the time of the Rio Plus Ten Conference in mid 2002.

That means that we must stabilise our greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels, on average, over the period 2008-2012.

Unfortunately that is easier said than done. The latest information we have suggests that New Zealand’s gross carbon dioxide emissions have risen 19.2 per cent since 1990.

That is up from the fourteen percent growth between 1990 and 1998, and represented an average annual growth in the past decade of two per cent.

We have set up a ministerial committee led by Hon Pete Hodgson to develop the strategy for meeting our Kyoto Protocol targets. The committee will need to work with industry, NGOs, scientists, and technologists, and environmentalists.

Energy efficiency in New Zealand is poor; and so improving it must be one of the first steps in containing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

In May the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act 2000 was passed through Parliament with strong support from the government.

The Act establishes the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, EECA, as a stand-alone Crown entity with an enduring role to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy across all sectors of the economy. It also empowers regulations to implement product energy efficiency standards and labelling, as well as the disclosure of energy efficiency statistics.

The new EECA has been given a $3 million boost in funding for energy efficiency in the Budget. This is a substantial improvement on what was planned by the previous government, which had been arranging a $2.5 million cut.

Importantly, the Act also mandates development of a National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy. The draft Strategy will be prepared by 1 April 2001 through a transparent process and consultation. It will focus on meeting government energy efficiency policies through practical objectives and targets. I urge you all to seize the chance to shape the energy future of New Zealand by having your say on the Strategy.

The government has set a clear goal for the environmental research it funds through its vote for Research, Science and Technology. It is to: “increase knowledge of the environment and of the biological, physical, social, economic, and cultural factors that affect it in order to establish and maintain a healthy environment which sustains nature and people.”

$84 million is going towards that goal in 2000/01. Over time the research should contribute to achieving:

 increased knowledge and awareness of the state of New Zealand’s ecosystems;

 increased understanding of the global biophysical environment;

 improved quality of human environments by enhancing the capacity to use and manage ecosystems efficiently and effectively;

 sustainable management of the productive sector’s environment.

Much of New Zealand’s climate change research is funded through this environmental research. The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has been asked to ensure that climate change research is contributing to fulfilling New Zealand’s international environmental obligations, and meeting our unique national needs.

Another environmental issue to which we have given top priority is waste management. An extra one million dollars per annum is going into work in this area.

The aim is to have all waste management working on a full cost recovery basis and all landfills meeting high standards by 2010. We also need to work in partnership with local government to achieve a reduction in the solid waste stream.

Water issues are important too. Some water-short regions are under pressure to identify and allocate water resources, and that problem could be accentuated in the future by climate change.

The Ministry for the Environment is working to help local councils deal effectively with water issues in their plans, and to develop a draft framework for water allocation.

Initiatives to improve water quality are needed too. By the end of this year the Ministry, along with the Ministries of Health and Agriculture, expects to complete a research programme into the levels of disease-causing organisms in our waterways. Understanding the extent of contamination in our water will help in developing health and environmental guidelines for water.

Again, effective partnerships will be needed to improve water quality, with central and local government, and agricultural, horticultural, and forestry land users all needing to be involved.

We all know that the continuing loss of New Zealand’s unique biodiversity is one of our most pressing environmental problems.

That’s why we are providing significant extra funding for protecting and restoring our threatened biodiversity. We are acting to “Turn the Tide” on the loss of our indigenous biodiversity.

There will be another $187 million spent over the next five years to protect and restore that threatened biodiversity. Fifty-seven million dollars are for pest and weed control, and $2.6 million for the development of a comprehensive biosecurity strategy. There will be a further $37 million to boost protection of biodiversity on private land. We want to build on existing successful partnerships between government, local bodies, tangata whenua, and land owners and users.

We will provide $2.35 million to begin addressing the loss of Matauranga Maori – customary knowledge about nature. There will also be $10 million for the kiwi recovery programme, and just over $40 million for researching and managing biodiversity and marine biosecurity.

All New Zealanders know of the steps the new government has taken to stop the extraction of native timber from Crown owned forests. The decision embroiled us in an unpleasant debate with some West Coast interests. But the outcome, we believe, is a win for New Zealand and for the Coast. Those great forests are preserved for posterity, for future recreational use, and for their intrinsic values, and the West Coast gets a fresh start for truly sustainable development with a large regional development fund.

3. Closing the Gaps is Fundamental to Achieving Social Sustainability.

New Zealand has had faster growth in inequality in the past fifteen years than any other country in the developed world. That is shameful. In our country, that inequality has had a unique and unfortunate dimension. There has been a growing disparity between the life chances of Maori and other New Zealanders, and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders.

It is simply not tolerable to our government to see tangata whenua consigned permanently to the status of disadvantaged citizens in their own land. That’s why earlier this year we set up a special cabinet committee to work on closing the gaps.

The gaps have increased over time and it will take time to decrease them. But what is important is that we take the right steps now to start the process. There has been a strong voice from Maoridom urging that it be able to take control of its own destiny, determine its own strategies, and devise its own solutions.

That means the government going back into the mainstream budgets and ensuring that funding meant for Maori actually delivers for Maori. The evidence is that it has not been.

It means strengthening the capacity of Maori organisations to strategise, to plan, and to deliver services. That is why $140 million over four years is going into plain, ordinary, provider development for Maori and Pacific peoples’ organisations.

Those communities too will benefit enormously from the many policies of this government which are of greatest help to low income people: the rise in superannuation, the income related rents, and the extra funding for health, education, and economic development. These measures are all aimed at reducing the gaps between rich and poor; and increasing social cohesion and thereby social sustainability. Our future is not sustainable if a significant minority of our population is systematically excluded from opportunities to develop their potential and from leading secure lives.


Today I have set out the government’s broad vision for a sustainable future, and the steps we are taking to build that future.

What we are doing complements the work of business, local government, the social and community sector, and environmentalists to the same end.

I am excited by the case studies at home and as outlined in Natural Capitalism to redesign resource use. And I am inspired by the efforts of that growing number of New Zealand businesses who recognise that a healthy society and environment are good for business – not bad.

Across the sectors and in government we need to be forming strong partnerships for sustainability. We want win:win results which deliver a stronger economy, a fairer society, and a high quality environment. As a nation we can commit to that triple bottom line – and be the better for it.


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